Wham! on Netflix The documentary is really just a heartwarming story about two friends

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Wham! on Netflix The documentary is really just a heartwarming story about two friends

NFLX’s new Netflix documentary about the band Wham!, titled simply and appropriately, Wow!, tells the story of the power pop duo, from formation to superstardom to their breakup. But at its core, the film is really about something much more interesting and much more relatable. It tells about two friends chasing their dream.

“I never thought that I would be given the opportunity to make a film about something as simple as friendship and that I would enjoy it,” said Wow! directed by Chris Smith. It’s this focus that makes the doc feel different from so many others. This insistence on putting friendship first is what underpins the film and makes it a happy affair and enjoyable watch all the way through.

The idea for the documentary came years ago and was actually from Wham! member Andrew Ridgeley himself. He planned to publish his memoirs, Wow! George and me, which arrived in 2019, and at that time he approached his friend Simon Halfon about creating something simple for television to help push the book. But Halfon, executive producer of that film, knew the story demanded more. “I said it was more than a short TV documentary. It deserves some kind of full-length treatment,” Halfon explained during a recent Zoom interview. And that’s exactly what he got.

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Wow! follows Ridgeley and George Michael (who is introduced by his real name Georgios Panagiotou, or simply “Jorg” to Ridgeley) as they meet, become friends, and decide to make music together. Despite a rocky start, the band’s success seems almost immediate. The film shows how they first took the UK and then the world by storm with their string of hits including ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Everything She Wants’, ‘Careless Whisper’ and the seasonal ‘Last Christmas’ – some of which are beloved by many even today. It’s amazing to watch this duo do real things, like tour China and smash the US charts, which ultimately catapulted Michael to later solo superstardom.

While Halfon was involved from the start, director Smith came on board after Netflix had already jumped in and offered it. “I was aware of the Wham! I was aware of the music, I was aware of the videos, but I didn’t really know much about the band itself or the people involved,” he admitted during the same interview. If he had no real affection for the members or the music, like Halfon, why engage in a years-long process? “I always feel that if I don’t know, there will be other people who don’t know and might be interested to hear it.”

Throughout the film, viewers are continuously guided through the band’s journey not only through interviews and archival footage, but also through scrapbooks. These lexicons are not the invention of the producers or the director. Ridgely’s mother began creating them the moment her son started a band, not knowing how extensive the collection would become. “I thought, oh, he’s going to have two or three scrapbooks,” Halfon admitted when Ridgely told him about his mother’s hobby. “There were about 50 or more of them and they were meticulous in detail.”

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These scrapbooks have become a valuable tool that helps both the audience and the documentary team. “It was kind of like the Rosetta Stone of history,” Smith says. “Whenever you’re trying to figure out the chronology or exactly what happened at what time, you can always go back to them.” The filmmakers figured viewers could do the same, and the well-preserved lexicons required minimal preparation to be ready for the screen, ensuring their authenticity and enhancing the overall storytelling.

Interestingly, the documentary takes a unique approach by not featuring either Michael or Ridgely on screen, other than archival footage. It makes sense for Michael since he died in 2016, but then why not Ridgely? “The idea was [since] George wasn’t going to be in front of a camera, we felt it would be nice for both of them to exist in the same space,” explained Smith.

Instead, recordings of various interviews are used, played over footage and photos from their time together on Wham!. One interview, in particular, provided the filmmakers with much of what they needed. Michael sat down for a three-hour conversation with a journalist that covered every aspect of his life, from his childhood to his massive commercial success, diving deep into every aspect. Halfon expressed his thoughts on the recording, saying, “It was almost like we asked George the questions the day before that we needed for this movie.”

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Although Ridgely did not appear on screen, he was actively involved in the filming. He participated in numerous interviews during the creation process, matching what Michael recorded during his lifetime. As new footage or interviews were discovered and inserted into the documentary, Ridgely would return to provide fresh commentary on what Michael had said years ago, creating a narrative that felt intimate and authentic. Halfon emphasized their desire for the documentary to feel like “the two guys telling their story as it happened,” and it’s mission accomplished on that front.

By the end of the film, the audience can’t help but feel a deep connection to the two friends, Michael and Ridgely. Their journey, as chronicled in the documentary, resonates on a personal level, even if their success and fame are alien.

Smith expressed his emotional attachment to the project, stating, “I was really sad when the production ended because it was such a great world to live in for the two years we were in the production.” Halfon, who was good friends with both musicians and shared meals with the two members of Wham! years after their separation, finds the interviews emotionally moving. “It felt like we were having lunch with him again,” he revealed, and it’s clear from both that conversation and the documentary how much both men meant to him, and this project serves as a loving tribute and its own kind of scrapbook.

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